From State Police to Woodcarver, Artisan Follows his Passion and Lives out his Dreams
By Annamaria Morrill
A deep respect for his late father, James Thomas, is sensed when Dennis Thomas talks about his new career with wood crafting. His father was a gifted wood carver and instilled in Dennis a passion as a young boy. The new company, founded in 2015 is a tribute to his father, and Dennis is the “son” in the business name “Thomas and Son Woodworks”.
Dennis creates his pieces mostly from drift wood he finds from the beaches. He also uses locally reclaimed, repurposed, and salvaged wood rescued from old buildings. He especially seeks out old growth wood that still has marks from sawmills, tools, and nails for the unique look. Many of his works are practical items, such as furniture, cutting boards and pet dishes. He also makes custom orders from request.
I have a couple of very special restoration projects I am working on. which include some old signs that my dad had made. One of them was a Clatsop Plains Presbyterian Church sign, that I finished restoring in 2015. He has also been assigned the job of replacing the 30-year-old sign at the Warrenton Fire Department, which he is planning to do with his father’s old carving chisels.
Work displayed in many local places
Soon visitors of Seaside Outlet Mall will get to admire Dennis’s work on the exterior walls of the building. The Outlet Mall ordered 10 large wood panels with carved art representing the beauty of our area. Dennis started with a locally sourced rough cut cedar and carved figures of a surfer, the Astoria Megler Bridge, the Astor Column, Haystack Rock, and some scenes of local wild life. All the metal work is made by Daniel Benoit of Columbia Steel. The company also makes all the metal legs for Dennis’s furniture pieces.
The unique furniture can be found locally at the Chariot, and at the Farmhouse Funk in Astoria, and at the Finnesterre in Manzanita. Some of the smaller creations, such as cutting boards, spice racks, knife racks, kitchen carts and flower vases can be found at Pat’s Pantry in Astoria, and also in their new retail shop in Portland. The newest retailer to carry some smaller items, and small furniture is the NW Food & Gifts in McMinnVille.
Dennis has had opportunities to show his craft at local events such as Columbia Memorial Hospital Christmas Craft Show, and HiiH Lights NW Artisans seasonal gatherings. Recently he was asked to display his artwork at Carruther’s Restaurant during Dark Arts Festival weekend in Astoria. Dennis’ work has been very well received.
I enjoy being self-employed, Dennis says. In the busy days, he works longs days in his garage, but always wants to find some time to spend with his wife Tiffany, and their children. When the business is slower he also works at DK Window Works a couple days a week. Being a business owner gives him some freedom to pursue his love of surfing, or go fishing if the season is good.
Many roads lead to right place
Dennis graduated from Warrenton High School in 1988, and five years later received his Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from OSU. He then enlisted in the US Marine Corps, and was stationed in California, Virginia, North Carolina, and El Salvador during seven years in the service. He received an honorable discharge as a Captain in 1999. During the years in Marine Corps Dennis started a family, and three of his four daughters were born in those years. The youngest was born when the Thomas family returned to Oregon, making their home in Portland.
A business opportunity brought him back to Warrenton some years later, but the plans changed leaving Dennis to look for new direction in life. He applied to Oregon State Police, and was offered a position soon after. He started at the police academy with an expectation to work in Tillamook after graduation, but ended up being stationed in a small, but busy Oregon state police department in Astoria in October 2007.
I saw my share of HWY 26 speed racers, many crashes and many of them were fatal. I quickly became passionate about DUII and drug enforcement, Dennis tells.
During his seven years in OSP Dennis was consistently tops in his office, and the county with DUII arrests. In 2013 Dennis was promoted to the rank of Patrol Sergeant, which is a position he held until his departure in October 2015.
I am very proud of the work I did during my time with OSP, and I was honored to make a difference in the community that I grew up in, Dennis says. He tells how some of the most difficult things for him to do was to make death notifications and seeing lives impacted by alcohol and drug abuse.
The Thomas and Son Woodworks business was launched officially at the same month Dennis left the OSP. He had been creating wood work since his college years, mostly to friends and family. His wife Tiffany encouraged him to pursue the dream of starting an own business, and with her support and help the transition went well. Dennis feels he is in the right place, continuing in his father’s dream. After serving in Vietnam with the US Marine Corps his father worked in a mill, but always wanted to be an artist. He passed away in 2011, and it just seemed now was the time for Dennis to step out and continue his father’s legacy as a master wood carver.